Master storyteller Ted Chamberlin visits UVic

Ted Chamberlin and Val Napoleon

Storyteller, scholar, transformer. These are some of the words used to describe public intellectual and author Ted Chamberlin during his visit to the University of Victoria in April.

The author of books including the recent memoir The Banker and the Blackfoot and of the well-known If This Your Land: Where Are Your Stories? Finding Common Ground took part in three events in April in Victoria, including a sold-out public reading at the Robert Bateman Centre downtown.

Chamberlin spoke to his legacy at the April 12 panel discussion Storyteller, Scholar, Transformer. Panelists including History Department Chair John Lutz and English Professor Misao Dean discussed the influence of Chamberlin’s work to the fields of English, history, anthropology, political science and law.

Lutz said Chamberlin’s work “highlighted the value of stories and language for how we understand land, ownership and law.” Lutz had the opportunity to work with Chamberlin a decade ago on the book of essays Myth and Memory: Stories of Indigenous-European Contact.

“[The experience] changed my life. It changed my intellectual direction,” Lutz said.

Law Foundation Chair in Aboriginal Justice and Governance Val Napoleon said Chamberlin’s books raised questions around what stories are being told, who is telling them and who is silent.

“What aren’t we seeing in the stories we tell and in the stories we create?” she asked. “What stories do we want to create about the world? For my grandchildren and your grandchildren, what kind of stories should we be creating for them?”

Dean said Chamberlin’s work has been “formative in my quest to figure out where I am, and where Canada is, and where the west is: and what stories have situated me in this place?”

She said Chamberlin’s book If This Your Land: Where Are Your Stories? changed how she thought as a Canadian literary scholar and teacher.

“He made us realize the way that the centuries-old devaluation of Indigenous oral traditions in comparison to written in literary studies was completely wrong-headed: that this devaluation was part of a pattern of colonialism that underlay the very foundations of my discipline,” Dean said.

Chamberlin, who spoke and took questions from the audience after the discussion, said he was humbled by the event.

“I’m trying to bring the humanity back into the humanities,” he said. “It does seem to me we need to remember it’s about people and communities and culture and language, the things that make us human.”

Chamberlin told the audience a story “can be so completely wrong, it obliterates people.” He encouraged people to think about how to reshape the story of Canada, starting with the country’s broken promises and breaches of trust with Indigenous peoples.

“We’ve got a real opportunity to retell these stories, to reimagine these stories in a way that make us whole again,” he said.

Later that evening, Chamberlin read to 85 people gathered at the Robert Bateman Centre for the event How Stories Transform the World, which included a Q&A with Napoleon. Chamberlin also participated in the session Covenant, Constitution, Commitments, Consent: The Power of Words, from Stories to Action, at UVic on April 13 about meaningful reconciliation with Indigenous communities.

Chamberlin’s visit was sponsored by the Centre for Global Studies and the faculties of Humanities and Law, with support from the departments of History, English and Political Science and UVic Libraries.